Estimates by United Nations indicate that Nairobi’s population will hit 5 million by 2025. Nairobi has a significant contribution to the country’s GDP, between 2013 and 2017, it contributed an average of 21.7 percent to Kenya’s GDP. Currently, the city is home to over 4 million people. 84 percent live in rental houses and 60 percent live in informal settlements.
Experts say Nairobi and other urban areas urgently need to increase the supply of affordable rental units every year in order to solve the current housing shortage. One of the real estate firms in Nairobi estimated the rise in rental prices at nearly five times the rate of inflation. This means rental prices are expected to increase with the city’s growing economy and increasing working-class population.
Nairobi can address the inequality gaps amongst its residences through the adoption of mixed-income housing, mixed tenure housing and mixed-use housing in the implementation of affordable housing projects under the current regime’s ‘Big 4 Agenda’.
In mixed-income housing, a single housing complex consists of a fair mix of studios, one, two and three-bedroom units while in mixed tenure housing, a significant percentage of the units are dedicated to affordable rentals and the rest is sold to low-income earners at affordable prices. Mixed-use housing encourages the establishment of facilities like day-care centers within the housing complex in order to meet the needs of the affordable-housing residents.
Mixed-housing approaches tend to encourage the creation of shared recreational facilities and social spaces which allow people of different income levels to interact. This approach further minimizes the urban service bias that is brought by residential segregation. My master’s research on ‘Spatial Inequalities in the Provision of Urban Services’ found out that there is a positive correlation between the quality of urban services and resident’s income. People in low-income residences tend to be sick more often than those in higher-income residences. Therefore, mixed housing approaches will not only benefit the residents but also sectors like health that take a significant proportion of the national budget.
While the Kenyan government seems to take the lead role in the affordable housing projects, past success in England’s capital shows that resident associations, community organizations, and municipalities can actually lead in the implementation of affordable housing in their communities. Such groups can work with architects and planners to design affordable housing that incorporates special needs that go beyond a structure. For instance, if a community is inhabited by a significant number of school-going children, it is only fair to dedicate substantial space to playgrounds and child-friendly social spaces when designing the housing complex. Similarly, an aging population within a community would necessitate the provision of more green spaces where older persons can access sunlight and meet their peers for healthy conversations in their sun-set years.
For a growing economy like Kenya, tackling housing affordability should never be a silo solution. Housing sector players need to influence the creation of employment opportunities and support the investment of mass transit lines. It makes sense to have housed-residents who can put food on the table and commute to work conveniently. Voluntary convergence of housing sector players would be a good option but policies that task their active engagement to guarantee social and economic responsibility would be a better option.
The current government has been encouraging public infrastructure investments in order to accelerate economic growth. This decision has led to significant growth in the market housing systems in the past 10 years. The dominance of private market housing is good for a growing economy but unregulated practices are certainly to blame for the increased rental prices in Nairobi. The ability to strike a balance between encouraging private market housing developers and addressing the supply of affordable housing units is a policy issue.
The county and national governments can tackle this issue by creating an enabling environment that encourages; creation of housing associations at the community level, the collaboration between housing associations, private and non-profit housing developers as well as aligning the public infrastructure investments with the housing needs.
Lastly, the recently approved Kenya Youth Development Policy recognizes the lack of decent housing as one of the major challenges facing Kenyan youth today. It would be prudent to form associations that will enable the youth to negotiate for better terms with financial institutions and governments to ease access to affordable housing. Such associations can grow into platforms that will see youth address other national challenges and tame the exploitative politics that characterize our current engagements.